The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

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The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is one of the 17 specialized agencies of the United Nations. WIPO was created in 1967 “to encourage creative activity, to promote the protection of intellectual property throughout the world.”

World Intellectual Property Organization currently has 187 member states, administers 26 international treaties, and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The current Director-General of WIPO is Francis Gurry, who took office on October 1, 2008. 186 of the UN Members as well as the Holy See, are Members of WIPO.

The origins of World Intellectual Property Organization can be traced to 1883 when 14 countries signed the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, which created intellectual-property protections for inventions, trademarks, and industrial designs. The convention helped inventors gain protection for their works outside their native countries.

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In 1886 the Berne Convention required member countries to provide automatic protection for works that were produced in other member countries. The two organizations, which had established separate secretariats to enforce their respective treaties, merged in 1893 to become the United International Bureau for the Protection of Intellectual Property (BIRPI), which was based in Bern, Switzerland.

World Intellectual Property Organization – WIPO undertakes activities in three main areas: 

  • The progressive development of international intellectual property law;
  • Assistance to developing countries to build intellectual property capacity at national and regional levels and encourage more effective use of IP as tool for economic development; and
  • Services to industry and the private sector to facilitate the process of obtaining intellectual property protection in multiple countries.

WIPO was formally created by the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization, which entered into force on April 26, 1970. Under Article 3 of this Convention, WIPO seeks to “promote the protection of intellectual property throughout the world.” WIPO became a specialized agency of the UN in 1974. The Agreement between the United Nations and the World Intellectual Property Organization notes in Article 1 that WIPO is responsible

“for promoting creative intellectual activity and for facilitating the transfer of technology related to industrial property to the developing countries in order to accelerate economic, social and cultural development, subject to the competence and responsibilities of the United Nations and its organs, particularly the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, as well as of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and of other agencies within the United Nations system.”

The Agreement marked a transition for WIPO from the mandate it inherited in 1967 from BIRPI, to promote the protection of intellectual property, to one that involved the more complex task of promoting technology transfer and economic development.

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World Intellectual Property Organization has established WIPOnet, a global information network. The project seeks to link over 300 intellectual property offices (IP offices) in all WIPO Member States. In addition to providing a means of secure communication among all connected parties, WIPOnet is the foundation for WIPO’s intellectual property services.

The aims of World Intellectual Property Organisation are twofold. First, through international cooperation, WIPO promotes the protection of intellectual property. The organization now administers more than 20 intellectual-property treaties. Second, WIPO supervises administrative cooperation between the Paris, Berne, and other intellectual unions regarding agreements on trademarks, patents, and the protection of artistic and literary works. WIPO’s role in enforcing intellectual-property protections increased in the mid-990s when it signed a cooperation agreement with the World Trade Organization.

WIPO has established liaison offices in Brussels, New York, Washington D.C., and Singapore as strategic channels through which to strengthen contacts with the international IP community, industry leaders, NGOs, and civil society. These offices develop mutually beneficial working relations and coordinate closely with organizations that lie outside of WIPO’s traditional scope of consultation and cooperation but are now emerging as valuable new partners for WIPO.

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